When Tristan Rogers was 6, he decided to raise money so that children like him elsewhere in the world can have food to eat.
With encouragement from his parents, Tristan reached out to family members and relatives to collect funds for donation to a meal packing event his church was hosting for the nonprofit Rise Against Hunger, which aims to eradicate hunger globally.
Tristan raised enough money that year to supply meals for one child for every day since he was born, according to his father, Jim Rogers.
Two years later, Rogers and his family joined about 1,000 other volunteers to raise money and pack food for Christ Church Fairfax Station’s third annual Together We Rise Against Hunger drive, a four-day affair that concluded on May 18 with the collection and packaging of 210,000 total meals.
“I don’t want kids to go hungry,” Tristan said. “…Families here can come help out…All the kids are very, very involved in this and also the parents. The first time I came here, I wanted to keep on doing it.”
Originally called Stop Hunger Now, Rise Against Hunger was founded in 1998 by a United Methodist minister named Ray Buchanan who had enlisted in the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War.
While the organization is primarily driven by volunteers who package meals for distribution by partners in countries around the world, Rise Against Hunger also responds to natural and man-made disasters that disrupt local access to food and supports community programs that promote sustainable agricultural and livestock production.
Christ Church first established a partnership with Rise Against Hunger shortly after relocating to a new building off of Route 123 about four years ago.
After moving into the new building, church leaders wanted to find ways to encourage their congregation to get involved in community service. Rise Against Hunger emerged as an ideal partner, both because the organization proved easy to work with and accessible and because of the kind of philanthropy it does.
“This was something that wasn’t just meaningful and impactful, but it also was something that a variety of ages could participate in,” Christ Church Associate Pastor Ryan LaRock said. “So, one of the things that’s amazing is you have everybody, from little kids all the way through adults, serving.”
For the first Together We Rise Against Hunger, Christ Church collaborated with next-door neighbor Temple B’nai Shalom to pack 100,000 meals. The goal increased to 300,000 meals for the event’s second iteration in 2018.
The third annual Together We Rise Against Hunger lasted from May 15 through May 18 and featured the involvement of 23 different faith organizations from across Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.
Rise Against Hunger has partners in 31 countries, primarily in Central and South America as well as Africa, so the meals packed at Christ Church’s events go to different recipients every year depending on where the nonprofit sees a need.
After last year’s proceeds went to Madagascar, the meals collected in 2019 will be shipped to El Salvador and will be distributed mostly through local school feeding programs that help students and families, according to Rise Against Hunger community engagement manager Alex Hart, who works with donors and volunteers in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
The meals packaged by volunteers from Christ Church and its partners last week included long-grain white rice, soy flour that serves as a protein substitute, dehydrated vegetables, and a packet of vitamins and minerals.
According to Rise Against Hunger, the organization has served 74 countries and packed over 4.7 million meals since its founding, including more than 1.7 million that were packaged just this past week.
A United Nations report on global food security and nutrition published on Sept. 11, 2018 found that chronic food deprivation had increased for the third year in a row with 821 million people in the world lacking adequate food.
Malnutrition continues to affect millions of children under 5. An estimated 149 million children suffer from stunting, where poor nutrition prevents them from attaining their full potential height and cognitive abilities, while another 49 million experience wasting, a life-threatening condition resulting from poor nutrient intake or disease, according to 2019 estimates by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank Group.
Poor nutrition can also lead to obesity, which affects 40 million children under 5 globally, the joint child malnutrition estimates say.
“Without increased efforts, the world will fall far short of achieving the SDG target of eradicating hunger by 2030,” the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in its September report, referring to the sustainable development goal set by the U.N.
While efforts at the community level may seem insignificant next to such daunting problems, Hart believes that every individual action like the ones made by the volunteers at Christ Church last week makes a difference.
“Nothing is going to happen if we don’t do something about it, and I think the important thing that communities can see with this event is that there is something that they can do about it,” Hart said. “It might feel like half a world away, but there is something that they can do in their backyard that can help those around the world.”
Volunteer Ipsita Salim first heard about Rise Against Hunger through the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling. Since then, she has participated in three or four packing events organized by the nonprofit in the area.
She sees meal packing as more than just providing food for a child or family.
With food, children can concentrate more fully on their education and have a better quality of life, and by supporting local agricultural and income-generating initiatives, Rise Against Hunger helps provide people with tools and resources that they can use to support themselves long-term.
She also argues that service activities like the Together We Rise Against Hunger packing event benefit volunteers as well as the recipients of their aid.
“It helps people of different communities and backgrounds come together and work together toward a common goal,” Salim said. “It helps us establish those bonds and really see each other as individuals and not just certain demographics. The kids…get involved, so it instills that sense of giving back very early on, which I think is also very important.”